Finding a place to rent can be a time-consuming hassle, especially if you live in an area where good rental properties are hard to come by. A real estate agent can help you sort through piles of listings to find the right property based on your lifestyle. Most likely, you will pay your agent for her time and expertise, but not directly. To avoid surprises and misunderstandings, discuss fees and commissions with your agent before she shows you any properties.
By signing a representation agreement, you agree to pay your agent a commission when she finds you a place to rent. However, most of the time, your agent's commission is paid on your behalf by the owner -- your prospective landlord. Some owners pay up to two month's rent in commission. Others may pay a percentage of the annual lease. Although rare, in highly competitive real estate markets, some landlords may decline to pay commission on your behalf, in which case, you would be required to pay your agent's commission. Commissions and fees vary by region.
You might waste time pursuing properties for which you don't qualify when looking on your own. A real estate agent, however, can work up a profile that includes your income, credit history, employment status and rental history, which helps her focus only on rentals that will work for you. When you decide on a property, she even has the flexibility to call the listing agent and negotiate particulars of the contract on your behalf. This can be particularly useful if, for example, you have a blemish on your credit record. If you have a strong employment history and good references, an agent can use her negotiating skills to persuade a property owner to take a chance on you and your spouse.
When you sign a lease, you're typically required to give your agent a check or certified funds for the deposit and first month's rent. The money goes into your agent's broker's escrow account, out of which he pays her commission based on the terms of the listing and broker-agent agreements. Generally, if one agent is involved in the transaction -- meaning you rented a property from the listing agent -- she keeps the entire commission. If a listing and a leasing agent are involved, the commission is split evenly between the two agents' brokers.
Even though your deposit and first month's rent are used to pay commissions, your legal and binding lease reflects that you paid these fees to the landlord. Your landlord will credit the funds you paid to the amount you owe, and you will get your deposit back at the end of your lease, assuming there are no issues. Should you submit a rental application thorough your agent, she may charge you a fee to cover the cost of pulling your credit report.